Last weekend we celebrated my oldest son, Jacob’s, bar mitzvah. It was the culmination of months of actual planning, but years of thinking about it.
I’m not sure why but I was never one of those girls who fantasized about her wedding for years before it happened. I was more focused on finding someone. When it came to planning my wedding, my mother– who paid for most of it– took over and it had more of her stamp on it than mine. It was beautiful, tasteful, and a lot of fun, but it didn’t feel like me.
I’ve attended bar mitzvahs of friends’ kids for several years and gathered ideas for making a party that was fun and gave guests an idea of what our family was about. More work than I expected, and more worry than probably necessary, it was all worth it because it was an amazing weekend that was about family, friends, and Jacob.
We don’t have any family where we live, except for Wilson’s brother in New York, so we were grateful that many relatives flew in from Florida, California, and Chicago to celebrate. The weekend started with 25 family members and a few close friends attending Shabbat services at our temple Friday night, followed by dinner at our house. It’s humbling when people stop their lives and spend time and money to be with you to honor your child. Wilson and I were thrilled that so many people came.
I couldn’t eat or sleep in the days leading up to the big event. Initially I thought it was worry, but soon realized I was excited! How many times in your life do you have all your friends and family together for a good reason?
Sure I’m biased (and pardon my French,) but the consensus was that Jacob kicked ass at services Saturday morning. He knew his Hebrew so well, the rabbi gave him extra morning prayers to recite during the service. He led the congregation with poise and confidence and I was so proud I could have burst into song. (Don’t worry– I didn’t.)
When a child becomes a bar mitzvah, they read a section of a sacred Hebrew scroll called the torah that includes the stories of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Jacob wrote a speech offering his interpretation of his torah portion and related it to modern life.
He also talked about his mitzvah project– volunteering to tutor and play with kids at a Newark youth center every week since July– which made him see the world differently. From his speech:
“At first, I was nervous because I wasn’t familiar with the environment or the people. But after going there for a few months, I realized that maybe I don’t live with the same circumstances, but we are all just kids, who hate homework, like to play games, and enjoy humor, sports, and junk food!”
Many kids do short-term mitzvah projects and I kept waiting for the day Jacob complained or refused to go to the Network. But to his credit, he went almost every week and because it became so familiar, he really enjoyed being a part of their day.
The kiddush lunch following Saturday’s service was a whirlwind and I don’t remember much. I was relieved that the hard part was over and elated that he had done so well. I think I ate a bagel, but I’m not even sure.
Saturday night we hosted a cocktail party with catered food and dancing. We rented a local space– a room that looked a lot like my house with a big fireplace and great molding and windows. I had a crew of friends help me decorate with holiday lights, lots of Jacob’s sports equipment and memorabilia, and photos of him everywhere. It felt like home.
I loved boogying with so many friends from all different parts of our lives, and watching the teenagers navigate the dance floor. But the highlight moments for me were the candle lighting, speeches, and video montage. Standing in front of his cool sports cake, Jacob called up the special people in his life to help him light 13 candles. After watching other bar/bat mitzvah kids do the same ceremony, he was eager to honor his friends and family and grinned from ear to ear throughout the lighting.
My speech was a lighthearted look at what it’s been like to parent such a smart, manipulative, and self-possessed kid. Wilson’s was a wonderful message about tradition, punctuated by a moving letter Wilson’s grandfather sent to him for his own bar mitzvah which focused on pride and love. It solicited many “awwwws!”
I spent hours and hours and hours creating a video montage that captured Jacob and was original. It included lots of home video of his baby and toddler era and video I’ve taken this year of his friends and favorite people and places. It even has some sports star power. I’ll post a YouTube link when I upload it in the next week.
When it was over, my feet were killing me from dancing in 3-inch heels, I was starving because I never ate a bite of the food I meticulously chose with the caterer, and I was sad that it went by too quickly.
But it was one of the happiest days of my life.
The best party compliments were when people said there was a lot of love in the room and that Jacob is a great kid.
Of course I knew that. But I wanted everyone at the party to feel it too. That’s what made it a success.